Madrid: Spanish media reported Saturday that Spain's government will announce that it is placing tight restrictions on movement for the nation of 46 million people while declaring a two-week state of emergency to fight the sharp rise in coronavirus infections.
News agency Europa Press and daily newspaper El Mundo reported the drastic step shortly before Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez was due to address the nation.
Health authorities in Spain said Saturday that coronavirus infections have reached 5,753 people, half of them in the capital, Madrid. That represents a national increase of over 1,500 in 24 hours.
The number of cases in Spain has increased this number since Sunday
The number of cases in Spain has increased tenfold since Sunday.
Sanchez acknowledged on Friday that the number of infections could reach 10,000 in the coming days.
Spain has followed Italy's path in implementing a similar lockdown after both European countries failed to contain the virus in regional hotspots.
Italy extended the strict restriction on movement from the north to the entire country on March 9 when it registered over 9,000 infections. It then went further on March 11 and closed all retail outlets except some supermarkets and pharmacies.
Already in Spain, residents in Madrid and northeast Catalonia awoke Saturday to shuttered bars and restaurants and other non-essential commercial outlets as ordered by regional authorities the day before.
The decision by prime minister Sanchez comes after some regions of Spain with viral clusters, led by Madrid, had taken steps to close restaurants and other non-essential establishments. The regional chiefs of Madrid and Catalonia had also asked for the central government to help tighten the screws on transport and restrict the circulation of people.
The normally bustling streets of Spain's two biggest cities were noticeably quieter as the message sinks in that social distancing is the only way to stop the global pandemic after its eruption in China.
Spooked shoppers packed some supermarkets early in the morning despite calls for calm from authorities and supermarket owners.
In the capital, however, the town hall was forced to close parks after many people continued their Saturday morning jogs and other outdoor pastimes.
Authorities and public health care workers, as well as television and radio news anchors, are making pleas for people to stay at home in order to reduce the spiking contagion curve.
Authorities in parts of southern Spain have also blocked access to coastal areas in an attempt to stop people who had taken advantage of the closing of schools this week and "work from home'' options to take impromptu beach trips.
A state of emergency allows the central government to limit free movement, legally confiscate goods and take over control of industries and private facilities, including private hospitals. It's only the second time that the government has evoked it since the return of democracy in the late 1970s. The other was declared during a 2010 air traffic controllers' strike.